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Will A Laser Pointer Kill Bacteria?

Will A Laser Pointer Kill Bacteria?

High-powered laser pointers can destroy harmful viruses and bacteria if exposed for too long. If the intensity is enough, according to scientists. But it needs to be at least 0.06 gigawatt (600mW). This means that ordinary laser pointers, commercial ones, may not be able to do so. 

Let’s learn more about how this works.

Will A Laser Pointer Kill Bacteria?

According to research conducted at the Arizona State University, the 0.06gW laser pulses are useful for killing very specific microorganisms, using what they call an “Ultra-Short Pulsed” (USP) laser. This laser is much less energy-intensive than UV and can be used to target specific microorganisms that include bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and parasites without affecting certain healthy human cells. 

Using laser for cancer treatment

The approach is called the Impulsive Stimulated Raman Scattering (ISRS) and can cure diseases much quicker! 

Furthermore, this technique also has the potential to kill cancer cells, hence considered a reliable treatment. 

According to the report, the laser pointer treatment won’t harm human cells because there is a very large difference between the laser intensity required for inactivation or disposal of human cells compared to the intensity required for removing microorganisms. The technique is ready for use for disinfection, pending a few tests and trials. 

Using the ISRS technique is being seriously considered for cases where bacteria and other pathogen(s) have developed drug resistance. Instead of using broad-spectrum antibiotics that can have side effects on the human body, laser disinfection can be much less taxing to the body and cost-effective. 

Studies

Doctor studying bacteria in lab

Several studies have been conducted where bacteria were exposed to laser pointers. It was found that bacteria tend to avoid the incoming burst of photons even at low intensity (even regular laser pointers). They move away from the exposed area for survival. This means that bacteria gets irritated by regular, everyday laser pointers, but doesn’t necessarily get killed. 

Our current medical approach towards targeting specific bacteria or cells includes using UV light, which eventually damages human cells. 

How Powerful Should A Laser Be to Kill Bacteria?

When discussing lasers and their healthcare applications, some of the most common questions asked are, “Will a laser pointer kill bacteria?” and “How intense does the laser have to be for any such treatment?” and “How deep should the laser penetrate our bodies for the bacteria to be affected?” 

Laser power on surface

Studies and simulations have shown that even at a depth of 3mm, an 810nm diode laser pointers can make marked differences in bacteria’s quantity and activity. On the other hand, a 1064nm Nd: YAG (Neodymium-doped Yttrium Aluminum Garnet) laser pointers would also be effective at the same depth. 

Both laser pointers have no impact on the tissue or gums. 

The studies show that the primary factor determining effectiveness isn’t the laser’s power but the location of the bacteria that are to be impacted by the laser. Blue laser pointers kill bacteria much faster than a red laser, preferably at 415 nm. For argon laser pointers, this needs to be 488-514 nm.

The laser pointer’s power can be controlled by adjusting the wavelength and pulse duration. The nature of the tissue in which microorganisms are being targeted is also equally important and can determine what the intensity needs to be. 

The laser pointer, especially the blue one, is of high intensity, yet, at the same time, it does not heat the tissue. Therefore, the person being treated can recover quickly and face little to no damage. 

To target specific cells, scientists can adjust the wavelengths and pulse widths of the laser beam, zeroing in on a specific bacteria type. Key tests run in the Arizona State University research included:

  1. E.coli bacteria. 
  2. Mammalian cells and their intensity threshold
  3. Several virus types

It was also found that bacteria and mammalian cells are more determined for survival than viruses, giving scientists an idea of the specific laser pulse intensity required.

Uses of Laser Pointers to Kill Bacteria

Currently, there are two widely known healthcare applications of lasers: dental treatments and healing of wounds. However, as technology advances, its applications are expected to increase. From surgical uses to cancer treatments, the possibilities are endless. 

Let’s look at the two most prevalent uses of the technique closely.

Dental Recovery Applications

Patient in glasses receiving dental laser treatment

One of the most common issues dentists have to help patients includes bacterial colonies on teeth, which, if not taken care of promptly, has the potential to turn into a root canal. According to the American Dental Association and New York Institute of Technology, high-powered laser pointers have been used to attack oral bacterial colonies, especially after a root canal.

This study also showed how laser treatments can be used to promote oral hygiene and, therefore, improve overall health. Potential uses also suggest a reduction or complete elimination of halitosis, gum deterioration, gingivitis, other periodontal diseases, removal of dental decay, or inflammation. 

At least 25% of all US dental offices/clinics can use dental lasers for periodontal treatment, and it is now just a matter of time before their application becomes more widespread. 

Facilitating the Healing Process

Doctor and patient in laser eye surgery

By using low-level laser pointers (980nm or less) and varying their wavelength, dosage, and frequency, pathologists can help wounds heal much faster and, therefore, reduce the risk of patients bleeding out. The wound will not ‘cauterize.’ However, by eliminating bacterial activity from the puncture site/wound, the body can focus on healing rather than on fighting bacteria. 

Low-level laser treatment (LLLT) can inhibit bacterial growth significantly in the surgery room and during recovery, helping patients, especially those with immune deficiencies. 

Final Words

The idea of using lasers in the medical field has been around for quite a while, and the fact that laser pointers will kill bacteria without the need for invasive procedures makes their use cost, time, and resource-effective. As the technology evolves and more studies are conducted, sanitization will become more ‘futuristic,’ something previously seen only in sci-fi movies!

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